Thai rescue of boys from cave is a drama fit for Hollywood

 Journalists celebrate after a news conference near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, on July 10, 2018.
Journalists celebrate after a news conference near Tham Luang cave complex in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, on July 10, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS
Thai vendors smile as they show victory signs near the hospital where the rescued boys are hospitalised for observation, in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai on July 11, 2018.
Thai vendors smile as they show victory signs near the hospital where the rescued boys are hospitalised for observation, in the northern Thai city of Chiang Rai on July 11, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - The nail-biting rescue of a Thai boys football team and their coach from a flooded cave complex transfixed news viewers around the world, and the story could be headed for a retelling by Hollywood.

Divers freed the last four of 12 boys and the adult coach on Tuesday (July 10), a successful end to a mission that gripped the world for more than two weeks.

The saga is reminiscent of the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days, a tale that was turned into the 2015 movie The 33, starring Antonio Banderas.

Like the Chilean rescue, the Thai drama showcases real-life courage in the face of harrowing circumstances, said Mike Medavoy, the Oscar-nominated producer of The 33.

It is likely the saga will be turned into a film or series of TV episodes at some point, he said.

"It's about the triumphs of individuals and groups of human beings over tragedy," Medavoy said. "It's a terrific story."

Producers with US-based Pure Flix, a studio that specialises in Christian and family movies, are already on the ground interviewing rescue workers for a potential film.

Pure Flix co-founder Michael Scott lives in Thailand part of the year and said he became captivated by the story while watching the news at his home in Bangkok. His wife grew up with the former Thai Navy Seal who died during the mission, he added. Scott later told the Hollywood Reporter that the story would be updated for the big screen.

 
 
 
 
 

Scott said he believes the international cooperation at the scene will help stoke interest in a movie about the effort.

"It's Thai, Westerners, Europeans, Aussies - people from all over the world who helped bring these kids to safety," he said.

"I think there is a worldwide appeal which I think will inspire millions across the globe."

The attempt to retrieve the boys and their coach became a race against time amid a forecast of heavy rain that threatened to flood the cave tunnels with fast-flowing and rising water, adding plenty of suspense.

"It's a combination of great jeopardy and great heroism," said literary agent Judi Farkas, who represented author Antonio Mendez on the film rights sale of his book Argo for the Oscar-winning Ben Affleck movie.

Bringing the Thai drama to the screen faces hurdles, however.

First, film-makers need to secure the rights from each of the boys' families, the coach, and any rescuers they want to portray in order to get their first-hand accounts of what happened. The boys are aged 11 to 16.

And replicating the rescue on screen could be costly.

The 33 was filmed in Colombia and Chile, and produced for about US$24 million (S$32.6 million). A movie about the Thai rescue could be made for less, Medavoy said, because filming in Thailand is cheaper.

But film-makers will have an added challenge as the rescue takes place in murky water, which was not a factor in the Chilean operation.

"The water and scuba diving scenes would be expensive," Farkas said. "Any time you film in water, it's expensive."

A big-screen production likely would take years to bring to theatres. Producers would have to decide if interest will remain once the story fades from the headlines, Medavoy said.

The 33 brought in US$24.9 million at theatres worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, just slightly more than its production budget.

The Thai rescue also could draw interest from TV networks, which could provide a quicker path to the screen. It remains unclear who the heroes would be in any film or TV version.

"Clearly the children are the heart of the story," Farkas said. "We don't yet know who led the rescue effort. We don't have enough details of the story yet to know whose point of view to tell it from."

In the meantime, news programming is feeding public appetite for the story.

On Tuesday, US television network ABC aired a special edition of 20/20 focused on the mission, and the Discovery Channel announced it would air a one-hour documentary on Friday.